Involving Children in Meal Planning

toddlers practice cooking with support from a teacher

Involving children in the meal planning is not only going to help them make more food choices and give you an opportunity to teach them about healthy food, but will also help you to combat fussy eating and help children to contribute to the family.

Young children can:

  • Make a grocery list.
  • Find things in the store.
  • Put food in the pantry.
  • Get ingredients out as you’re preparing dinner.
  • Help open cans.
  • Pour and stir.
  • Children can set the napkins, silverware, or entire table.
  • Children can rinse and/or wash dishes and help to put them in the dishwasher.

The more you include children when they are young, the sooner they can do many of these things independently.

A warning here about praise:

You will likely notice your young child is eager to help! You have a very important choice here! How do you want your child to be motivated? Right now your child is helping to set the table because they feel good doing it, it makes you happy, and it’s something new and fun. If you choose to praise your child for this, “You’re such a good little girl, I’m going to give you an extra scoop of ice cream for being so helpful.”, you are setting yourself up to change that motivation from intrinsic (all the feelings listed above) to extrinsic (the things they are praised for, being ‘good’, a reward, in this case ice cream, and your judgment of them or attention). Instead focus on the internal.  You can say “You’re smiling. You’re proud of yourself for setting the whole table. Now we all have napkins and silverware to eat together.” Keep the focus on their feelings and their contribution. You want your child to see their contribution and want to be helpful. **Link to Praise Info

As children get older they may no longer want to help or plan. This is a cue that it is time to talk more about your family jobs. Everyone in your family has a job to do. Some might be only daddy jobs for now or only mommy jobs but eventually children will get older and will be able to do many things. We recommend making a family job chart that has everyone’s jobs and switching them every month or week depending on the role. It’s not paid but simply part of being in the family.

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